Lior Lev Sercarz is a spice master, chef and owner of La Boîte Biscuits & Spices in New York City. He is also the author of The Art of Blending. He is based in New York City, United States.
Creating a blend is like creating a piece of clothing
In New York City inspiration happens 24/7. It can find you at any moment: a subway ride or a cab ride, you don’t need to go far. This city surprises me daily. I walk out of my store and catch the bus home and I will, almost without fail, encounter something inspiring. There are so many different people from so many different backgrounds, the way they eat, speak and dress alone is a big inspiration.
When I create a spice blend, it might be based on something I encounter in my day-to-day life, it could be inspired by a particular ingredient, a lot of the time it’s based on a conversation. Most of my clients are in the industry so, most likely, it will be a conversation about food. If my client isn’t in the food industry we’ll talk about who they are, where they’re from, their personality – are they vibrant, fun, warm? Creating a blend is like creating a piece of clothing, it’s a very personal thing, the spice is theirs and they have to feel comfortable with it.
Every spice tells a story
When I create a blend, of course there is the inspiration that sparks the idea, but what comes next is what I call the story behind the blend. It can be a person, a place, an experience I’ve had, but there has to be a reason behind it. If I can’t convince myself about the blend’s worth, it’s hard to convince the consumer. If there’s a story it’s easier for me to start gathering ingredients. It’s like a movie, there are one, two or three main characters, the important ones. Then you add the supporting cast. I always compare making a blend to having a party at home. Who do you invite? You have to be careful, some elements don’t work that well together.
Inspiration to completion
Over the years I’ve developed a vocabulary, or a kind of dictionary, in my head; what things taste, look, or smell like. And from that I can combine certain elements. So I start by putting it down on paper. Once that list makes sense I go and pick up the spices then I toast them, I grind them – and for that I use different types of grinders and degrees of grind, some are coarse some are fine, and that creates another interesting element – I blend them and put them in a jar. Then I walk away. It’s an intense process and I can’t judge a blend’s worth immediately. I might leave the blend for an hour, a day, a week. Then I come back to it for judging. The judging itself is simply holding the blend, smelling it, looking at it, boiling it in water, putting it in cold water, and if I have the time, cooking with it. The advantage of working with such talented people is I can send samples to them to get their feedback – is it good, is it bad? – that starts the process of analysis. The timeline for inspiration to completion of a blend could be as short as a day, or as long as six months.
This article appears in MISC Fall 2013, The Inspiration Issue